Hammersmith and Fulham residents battle HS2 over Wormwood Scrubs

At 75 acres, the Wormwood Scrubs is a designated nature reserve proven to be a haven of expanse in metropolitan London, especially during coronavirus lockdowns.

But it is about to become a battleground.

HS2 has plans to divert a sewer into the Scrubs and build a new access road on wild land which has led some residents to gear up for a fight.

TAMING OF THE SCRUBS: Parliament decreed in 1879 Wormwood Scrubs should always remain “more wild than tamed” (image credit: David Lindo)

Anti-HS2 activist Olivia Macdonald said: “It’s like a David and Goliath story – but David is cheating. 

“It’s a slap in the face. People and heritage are being ignored.

“Instead of building a brand new toy, why don’t we fix the ones we’ve got?

“We will fight them to the last twig. We’ll be camping out there on Christmas Day and beyond if we have to.”

Macdonald, 54, is a special needs teacher who often takes her students on walks to the scrubs.

There are three main victories campaigners seek: for the proposed access road to be reconsidered, for schedules and maps of plans to be shared with residents and for up-to-date independent surveys of the areas and trees to be conducted and published. 

SAVE OUR SCRUBS: So far the petition SAVE WORMWOOD SCRUBS FROM HS2 has accumulated an army of nearly 4,000 signatures (Image credit: Barbara Crowther)

They have set up a petition to achieve these aims, which has reached nearly 4000 signatures.

HS2 initially intended to build a fenced-off access road across the scrubs from a site entrance on Braybrook Street which would have cut down the wildest section but petitioners argued the existing concrete access point off Old Oak Common Lane should be used instead.

It seemed they had won the first round when Hammersmith and Fulham council (LBHF) revealed on 16 November that HS2 had agreed to consider the option of using the existing access point for works.

But LBHF needs to secure required consents in a short amount of time and ensure this does not delay works or cost a significantly larger sum than the original plan.

HS2 stressed the imminence works and the programme schedule but said it was committed to working with LBHF. 

LIZARD’S LAND: The Scrubs are home to common lizards, slow-worms, foxes, badgers, grounding birds, bats, rare butterflies, great crested newts and more biodiversity than you can literally shake a stick out of (Image credit: Barbara Crowther)

Petitioners said HS2 failed to be transparent and when all face-to-face community engagement events were cancelled in March due to COVID no alternative zoom option was made available until September.

HS2 said information about the work was not new and there was a 24/7 freephone number available for residents to express concerns.

Friends of Wormwood Scrubs (FWS) trustee Faye Thomas said: “It’s hilarious and terrifying.

“We all have a moral obligation to protect biodiversity for future generations.

“When you see trees with roosts being cut down it’s horrible, it feels like a scene from Avatar.”

Thomas, 32, is pregnant and due after Christmas, making the matter more urgent to her.

She said one of her biggest worries was that HS2 had not undertaken recent independent ecological field surveys for protected species and the surveys they had carried out in 2013 excluded any trees being surveyed for bat roosts.

HS2 responded saying surveys had been carried out every year since 2016 and there was a protected species report in 2017 but it was not publicly available. 

FWS member Emma Ransom said: “The Scrubs have become the lungs of west London during COVID.

“We’re living in a climate emergency, it doesn’t add up.

“People feel very, very strongly – this year more than ever.”

Ransom, 59, said residents had told her they were willing to sit on the line.

HS2 and FRIENDS: HS2 has come under a lot of criticism at all stages and has even been parodied as shown in this Action Alliance spoof

On 6 November Conservative politician Lord Hague wrote a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pointing to concerns around HS2’s dealings with wildlife.

He attached a document from an ecological consultant and statement from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Wildlife Trusts, and the Woodland Trust.

The statement said: “The scheme must not lead the system astray by limiting transparency or disregarding due diligence. 

“HS2 Ltd has had more than adequate time to follow the proper processes.”

HS2 said all works were designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife and carried out in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.

A spokesperson said final checks would be made before work started and an environmental clerk would be present during site clearance.

Works on Wormwood Scrubs are due to start in January 2021, and in the meantime petitioners will hold their breath as they wait to see what happens to west London’s lungs.

You can sign the petition here.

And you can read more about anti-HS2 activists living in a camp here.

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